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WMU to bring national race exhibit to Kalamazoo

Sept. 14, 2007

KALAMAZOO--Race as a sociological phenomenon rather than a biological fact is explored in a new national touring exhibit coming to Kalamazoo in the fall 2010. Western Michigan University and the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, part of Kalamazoo Valley Community College, are collaborating to bring "RACE: Are We So Different?" for four months to the museum.

"We know that seems like a long way off," notes Dr. Kristina Wirtz, WMU assistant professor of anthropology and one of the coordinators of the event, "but this will be one of the biggest exhibits to come to Kalamazoo in a long time."

Planning is already underway. WMU and KVCC are at the brainstorming stage and are beginning to reach across campus and into the community for ideas, expertise and energy. Each institution has made a financial commitment toward the loan of the exhibit, which will be hosted by the Kalamazoo Valley Museum from Sept. 25, 2010, through the end of that year. They are seeking campus and communitywide involvement in planning programming to precede, coincide with, and hopefully last beyond the exhibit's visit to Kalamazoo.

WMU and KVCC envision wide-ranging programming on campus, at the museum and in the community, to include speakers, panel discussions, performances and art exhibits that will attract a diverse public. They want to develop educational materials, workshops and special "dialogues on race" workshops for teachers, upper-elementary through secondary students and other groups attending the exhibit.

One of the organizations already contacted to collaborate is Kalamazoo's YWCA.

"It is a huge coup for our community to get this, and we will absolutely be involved," says YWCA CEO Jennifer Shoub. "We will be working to make sure people get to the exhibit and to facilitate discussion groups."

"In my view, it is a wonderful opportunity for the University to be involved in public outreach concerning one of the most important social issues of our time. It is a great and very significant leaning opportunity for all of us," adds Dr. Robert Ulin, chair of the Department of Anthropology at WMU and the University's coordinator for the event.

The exhibit was created by the Science Museum of Minnesota, in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association, to educate the public and be a catalyst for discussions about race. More than 250,000 people visited the RACE exhibit during its four-month run in St. Paul, Minn. Now it begins a five-year nationwide tour, and its first stop was in Detroit this summer. The exhibit is now in Wichita, Kan., for the remainder of the year.

The exhibit explores three themes: the everyday experience of race, the contemporary science that is challenging common ideas about race and the history of this idea in the United States.

"The American Anthropological Association's Race Initiative intended for this exhibit to help stimulate a national dialogue about race. The approach of the exhibit is not confrontational, but about encouraging people to talk about their experiences of race, what race means in our lives and society, and how we confront racism," says Wirtz.

For more information visit www.understandingrace.org or www.wmich.edu/cas.

Media contact: Deanne Molinari, (269) 387-8400, deanne.molinari@wmich.edu

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